Kinesis' first carbon frame is designed for sportives, so Paul Vincent rode the 120-mile Stage 1 of this year's Tour de France on it, with Tour legend Sean Yates setting the pace...
To cyclists in the know, the words 'Kinesis' and 'aluminium' seem inexorably linked; the Taiwanese factory have been suppliers of alu frames and forks to major players in the cycle industry for decades. Now, with the increasing interest and uptake of carbon fibre technology, Kinesis have exchanged their welding torches for lab coats and an Autoclave for the KR-810. They've also entrusted the bulk of design and development of their new carbon frame to UK distributors, Upgrade.
For this test we have the pleasure of being joined by Discovery Channel Directeur Sportive, personal coach, gardener and former Tour de France yellow jersey holder Sean Yates, together with cycling journalist Jeff Jones.
We're on the route of the London stage of the Tour de France that concludes in Canterbury this July. The 120-mile route is a varied mix of climbs, descents and straights that is perfect for judging the bike's suitability for cyclosportives, which, as Upgrade inform us, was a major consideration in the design.
Well-made with distinctive tubes
Producing a fresh new look was at the top of the list for the design team at Upgrade, and they've created a remarkably good looking frame with distinctive graphics. Upgrade selected a high-modulus 3k weave (3,000 fibres per yarn), claiming that it's almost as good as the linear carbon used on some of the more expensive carbon frames they've inspected but less costly to source - a saving they can pass on.
Care has been taken to tune the characteristics of the lay-up of the carbon fibres to ensure the right balance of stiffness and rider comfort, and the hugely oversized area around the bottom bracket gives the frame a very solid appearance. Furthermore, the area in front of the rear dropouts is webbed to add strength, and the gear hanger is replaceable.
There are five frame sizes available based on a 'semi-compact' frame geometry, meaning that the top-tube slopes down from front to back (only slightly on the larger sizes but more so on the smaller two). The frame sizes listed refer to the distance from the bottom bracket to the top of the seat-tube, though to avoid any confusion Kinesis have provided a key to the equivalent numbers based on traditional frame geometry on their website.
The 100% carbon Kinesis Tracer fork has larger than average blades and a large fork crown that makes it look bulky, but integrates well with the angular lines of the frame. The fork scored a respectable 8 in our recent grouptest of carbon forks (issue 194). The fork steerer has a shim placed inside the tube to compensate for the bung being slightly undersized. Unfortunately its shiny surface causes the bung to slip and the headset bearings to loosen. Dressing the shim with fine sandpaper helped but we'd advise smearing the mating surfaces with a little Tacx Carbon prep.
There are better bikes for those who enjoy feeling every nuance of the road surface, because it lacks the zesty closer-to-the-action ride of a Storck CD1.0 or the Isaac Sonic. However, the KR-810 manages to be both smooth and stiff enough for most riders.
The first part of our ride runs out of Greenwich on a series of straight roads, with numerous roundabouts and traffic light controls that have us cornering hard and reaching for the brakes, but always with a sense of being firmly planted to the road surface. The second half of the ride winds through lanes and on the gradients that we encounter here the relatively upright riding position forces me down onto the drops more than I normally would have to. There's a hint of flex in the toptube on fast descents but it never leads to a sense of instability as we pass over the numerous ramps of tarmac that separate new surfaces from old.
As my legs protest at the pace set by Sean on the run to the finish line at Canterbury, I notice the exceptional stability of the steering. Even though I'm completely shattered, I reflect on how comfortable the ride has been.
Good kit for long-distance riding
The KR-810 isn't available as a complete bike, so the selection of finishing kit is largely down to the individual. We'd strongly advise fitting a compact or triple chainset in place of the traditional 39/53 one provided if you're looking at European sportives.
The frame and fork package includes an Oval seatpost worth £60 and adjustments both to saddle height and setback were easy to make. Upgrade are importers of Oval gear, so it was no surprise to see the handlebar and stem components coming from this brand. However, riders who enjoy the odd sprint will find the new carbon stem lacking in stiffness, but as the ride went on we warmed to the stem's vibration-absorbing properties.
It's customary to partner a frame that weighs around a kilo with the best gear components available, and while Shimano's top Dura-Ace kit worked flawlessly under pressure, we know that their more affordable 105 components would look respectable too if the rider preferred to spend the balance on lighter wheels.
A solid and dependable option
We could have opted for lighter wheels and reaped the benefits on the climbs, but because the test is centred on the performance of the frame we opted for the familiar 16- spoke Shimano Dura-Ace WH- 7801 clincher wheels. They're available for a very reasonable £180, but are soon to be replaced by a revised Shimano range on which spoke tension adjustments are made at the rim-end of the wheel rather than at the hub end.
The new Continental GP4000 S tyres performed well throughout the test and use new technology in the tread to create a more dense compound structure that's claimed to provide better tread life than the standard GP4000. Even though we collected a puncture during the test, it was fixed quickly thanks to the ease with which the tyre could be removed from the rim, using no more than finger pressure.
It's a sure thing that the popularity in UK-based sportives is heading skywards, but with some bike prices heading the same way it's a breath of fresh air to find a bike that's so perfectly suited to sportives that can be picked up for a reasonable price. For those who want to upgrade from a mid-range aluminium bike to a high-end carbon bike with an exceptional talent for absorbing road shocks you can't do better for the money - though we reiterate that if you're considering taking on the more challenging European sportives, the true performance of this frame would be best realised when it is partnered with a triple or a compact chainset for the keener, lighter riders.